Based on Rachel Joyce’s Booker-longlisted novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of
Harold Fry is a film that tries so hard to make an enjoyable story about
the elderly but ends up I imagine achieving only, much like the recent
Allelujah, to depress the very target audience it’s trying to entertain.
Please can someone make a film that’s cheery and upbeat about elderly
Harold and Maureen Fry (Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilson) are an elderly
couple living in a loveless marriage in Devon. When Harold receives a
letter telling him that an old female work colleague called Queenie has
cancer and is in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Harold decides, in an
effort to lift her spirits, to walk to Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Setting off, much against the wishes of his despairing wife, Harold meets
various characters.. None of them are particularly interesting. A man he
meets in a cafe bizarrely starts telling him about an affair he’s having
with a young boy who likes him to lick his training shoes.
Broadbent is as always very watchable but turning him from a doddery old
pensioner to someone who can live off the land, a sort of geriatric version
of Bear Grylls, really stretches the characters credibility. As for his
wife Maureen it’s not hard to see why Harold wants to go on a long walk as
she’s even more miserable than he is.
It’s a film where things are only hinted at and director Hettie MacDonald
doesn’t give much of the background of Harold’s relationship with Queenie,
and that of his son, away until near the end of the film. This choice,
whilst keeping us guessing, never lets us fully appreciate Harold’s motives
for what he’s doing.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a film that promises so much but
by the end even an actor as accomplished as Broadbent can’t bring much life
to a film that’s about as exciting and interesting as its title character.